How to Complete the Iowa Archaeological Site Record Form: A Guide for Nonprofessional Archaeologists

Filling out site forms may not be as exciting as discovering sites in the field, but it is a vitally important aspect of archaeological work. The goal in completing a site form is to provide accurate, concise information that will allow others to find the site at some point in the future. Precise location of a site may be important for research purposes. By reporting a site, you contribute to an ever-widening pool of archaeological knowledge. The site that you report today may contain crucial evidence that future investigations can use to answer important questions about life in the prehistoric and historic past. Precise location of a site may also be important for management reasons. By reporting a site you help to protect that site from damage and destruction, whether caused by development or vandalism. Your site report may allow for the long-term preservation of important archaeological deposits, and the proper study and evaluation of deposits that can't be preserved.

The Iowa Administrative Code limits access to site records to persons with valid research interests. This allows us to maintain landowner privacy and to safeguard sites from unreasonable risk of damage and destruction.

To complete an Iowa Archaeological Site Record you can contact the

Site Records Coordinator 

and request the computer template for Microsoft Word 2.0. There are two versions of the site record form. The version to which this guide applies was designed primarily for non-professional archaeologists. However, you may also request a five page new form, implemented in May 1993. The new form has some advantages. For example. the site types and cultural affiliations are listed out to make responses more standardized. If you request the new form, you should also ask for the instructions appropriate for that form. The instructions provided with each form will take you through the steps that are required to properly record a site.

Generally, the first thing that you should do when reporting a site is to determine if that site was previously recorded. To do this, you should relate your site's legal location and the name of the county to the Office of the State Archaeologist. Provide the name of the U.S.G.S. quadrangle map on which your site is located if that information is available. The Site Records Coordinator will compare the location that you provide with existing site information to determine if your site requires a new or supplemental designation. After this initial step, you may fill out the form.

Line-by-Line Instructions

Official Site Number. Site numbers are assigned by the Site Records Coordinator at the OSA. The official site number is a unique identification number assigned to a site. It follows the Smithsonian trinomial system: 13XXnnn, where 13 indicates Iowa, XX is the official county abbreviation, and nnn is the site number, assigned in sequential order.

OSA Accession Number. Each artifact collection reposed at the OSA is assigned an OSA accession number. Privately held collections are not assigned accession numbers. If you wish to have an artifact collection from a site curated by the OSA, you must make arrangements with the Site Records Coordinator and the Laboratory Manager. In addition to filling out a site form, you will be asked to catalog the material, that is, describe how many of each type of artifact you have. Standardized forms are available from the OSA for this purpose. You may request catalog forms from either the Collections Manager or the Site Records Coodinator at the OSA.

Ideally, the site form, catalog sheets, and collection should be turned in together. If this is not practical, the site form should be submitted as soon as possible, and the collection and catalog sheets may follow later.

County. Record the county in which the site is located. If the site extends across county lines, indicate this on the site form. In such cases, the official site designation will indicate the county in which the site was first recorded (this rule also applies to sites that cross state lines).

Local Site Name. Some sites are known by one or more local site names. It is important to record those names that are widely recognized as identifying a particular site. However you should not name every site you find. Most sites are known only by their official site number. The official site number should be used in all correspondence, publications, photo logs, and other documentation.

Range, Township, Section, and Quarter-Section Divisions. Draw the boundaries of your site onto a map that depicts the site vicinity in detail. The best maps for this purpose are United States Geological Survey quadrangle maps (U.S.G.S. 7.5* topographic series, 1:24,000 scale). Quad maps may be purchased from the Iowa Geological Survey Bureau. Small sites may be represented with a small dot. Larger sites should be drawn as an open circle or other shape as appropriate.

Record the range number, township number, and section numbers on the site form. On a U.S.G.S. quad map, the range number, ``R4W,'' for example, is printed along the top and bottom of the map. The township number, ``T76N,'' for example, is printed along the left and right sides of the map. The section numbers appear near the center of each section. All of these are printed in red. The name of the civil township generally does not need to be included on the site form.

Describe the legal location of the site as it would be described by Iowa county governments. A legal location template is used to do this. Templates may be purchased from Forestry Suppliers, Inc. Always begin by orienting the template correctly on your quad map. The southeast corner of the section in which your site is located is always considered to be the reference point from which to orient your template. Sections frequently are not true squares, and they may not measure exactly 1 mile on a side. The shape of each section was determined during the original survey conducted by the General Land Office in the 1800s. Variations occurred due to inaccuracies in survey method. In order to correct for this, area was added or subtracted as needed to make sections fit into townships and to make townships fit within counties. Always align the east edge of your template along the east edge of the section on the map. Do not worry if this means that the other sides do not line up. If your site lies outside of the template when the template is oriented as described above, or if the southeast section corner is not shown on your map refer to the Special Problems Concerning Legal Locations section of this guide.

Describe the quarter-section divisions (quarter-quarters) for your site following this example. Begin with the largest legal division and record it in the far right blank on the site form. Proceed with each successive division until you have described every legal division that your site lies within. Normally you need to go down to the fourth or fifth divisions to do this. If your site occupies most of the next larger legal division, you may ``round up'' to simplify the description. A half of a division may be used instead of a quarter when it is appropriate, but avoid using other fractions.

Type of Site. Record the type of site (i.e., camp, village, mound, trail, cemetery, farm). If you are unable to determine the site type, write ``undetermined.'' The cultural and temporal affiliations should also be recorded in this space. Three examples are: Archaic quarry, Woodland camp, and Mill Creek village.

Map Used. Record the name of the source map or maps used to describe the location of your site (i.e., U.S.G.S. Mineola Quadrangle). Attach to your site form a photocopy of a 1:24,000 scale map with your site drawn on it. Hand drawn maps are acceptable provided that they approximate the desired scale and are completed in dark ink. Sketches traced from aerial photographs are acceptable; please clearly indicate the scale. Note that the accuracy of these maps is critical to properly identifying site locations.

Tenant/Owner. Provide the name of the landowner on whose property the site is located. If applicable, supply the name of any tenant on the property.

Informant. If you first learned about the site from another person, please provide that person's name and, if possible, indicate how he/she can be contacted.

General Location. Describe the site location with reference to nearby, permanent landmarks. Include distance and directions to modern cultural features (e.g., city limits) as well as natural features (e.g., stream valleys). Provide the distance and direction to the nearest water source and the name of the major drainage basin. Click here to see a map of the major drainage basins of Iowa. Describe the site's position in the landscape (e.g., blufftop), elevation, and soil type.

If possible, provide the UTM coordinates for your site. You will need a special UTM grid coordinate template (available from Forestry Suppliers) to do this. The template includes instructions for use. UTM coordinates can also be calculated for you by OSA personnel.

Present Condition. Estimate the condition of the site at the time that you visited it. For example, if the site appears to be in good condition with minimal erosion, state this. This line should be updated in supplemental reports if the site's condition changes after an initial report is made.

Previous Excavations/Investigator. Record all known persons who have worked at this site prior to the visit on which you based the information for your site form.

Material Collected/Owner. Record what has been collected from the site and the names of collection owners. Provide as complete a description as possible for each artifact category (i.e., 4 Clovis points, 32 chert flakes, 2 retouched; 30 waste flakes; 5 bone fragments, 3 burnt).

Method of Collection. Describe how material was collected from the site (e.g., random find or controlled surface survey).

Recommendations. Provide your suggestions for maintenance of the site (e.g., ``Further investigation to determine significance,'' or ``Completely destroyed- no work recommended'').

References. Include the author, title, date, and page of any written accounts that you know mention the site. Also include any references that you used to assist in completing the site form. For example, texts that helped you identify soil types, artifact types, or site types.

Recorded by/Date Recorded. Include your name, address, and the date that you filled out your site form.

When you have completed the form. Send your completed form to the Site Records Coordinator at the OSA. Your form will be photocopied on archival quality paper and filed in the Iowa Site File. A second copy will be sent to the State Historical Preservation Office in Des Moines. The information from your form is added to a computerized research database and is recorded on site maps maintained at the OSA. Finally the Iowa Archaeological Site Inventory, the official listing of all archeological sites recorded in Iowa, is updated. After your form has been processed, you will receive a copy of the completed form which includes the official site number assigned to your site.

Addresses and Additional Information

To request site forms and instructions, submit completed site forms, or for more information, contact:

Site Records Coordinator
Office of the State Archaeologist
The University of Iowa
700 Clinton Street Bldg
Iowa City, IA 52242-1030
(319) 384-0732
E-mail

A computer template in Microsoft Word 2.0 format is available on disk for both site forms. Other word processor formats may be available. To request a copy, please send a formatted disk and indicate the computer and word processor formats that you are using: Windows, DOS, or Apple Macintosh. For additional information, contact the address provided here.

Copies of a U.S.G.S. map index and catalogue may be requested free of charge from:

Geological Survey Bureau
Trowbridge Hall
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242

Maps are priced at $4.00 each.
The Index to Maps is available at no charge

Location templates may be purchased from:

Forestry Suppliers , Inc.
205 West Rankin Street
P.O. Box 8397
Jackson, MS 39284-8397
Sales Department: (800) 647-5368
Catalogue request: (800) 360-7788

Legal location template: "Geologist's Land Locator '' under $3.00
UTM location template: "UTM Coordinate Grid Template'' under $5.00

Special Problems Concerning Legal Locations

You may occasionally encounter problems when describing legal locations because the section with which you are working is not a square or because it is greater or less than one mile on a side. You may also encounter problems with sections that are divided between two U.S.G.S. quad maps. Such problems make mapping a site location more difficult, but as long as you consistently use the southeast corner as datum and align the template with the eastern edge of the section, you can correctly record your site. The following suggestions should allow you to find and use the southeast corner in problem sections just as in regular sections. If you have questions after you have read this page, contact the OSA.

Sometimes you will find section divisions that are larger than normal. These large divisions are often found near the western or northern edges of a section. In such cases, the template may not cover the site. Alternatively, the divisions of a section may appear too small. These situations both reflect "corrections" made by the surveyors from the General Land Office to fit sections into a township. Such corrections arose form the need to adjust a two-dimensional grid to the earth's curved surface. Small corrections to section divisions and major correction lines produced inaccuracy by stretching sections divisions and shrinking others. Use the southeast corner and eastern section line to align your template. Then, find the section division nearest to your site and extend it to cover the area in which your site is located.

If the southeast section corner is not on the same quad map as your site, refer to the adjoining quad map(s). The names of adjoining quads usually appear near the center of each map's edges or at the corners and are contained within parentheses. You can also use the Index to Topographic Maps of Iowa (available from the Iowa Geological Survey Bureau) to determine the adjoining quad's name. Make photo copies of the adjoining maps and line them up with the quad map that your site is on so that you can see the whole section. Now you can describe the legal location of your site.